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WKU football blog: What they’re saying …

November 6, 2008

Special thanks to Drew Champlin of the Dothan Eagle for some added insight on Troy. Check out Drew’s blog here.

BGDN: How is the team dealing with the quarterback situation? Down to an original third-stringer, how has the team rallied around him?

DC: I wouldn’t say Levi Brown was the third-stringer. There was a battle for No. 2 between him and Tanner Jones (out for the year with knee injury) and Jones came in after Jamie Hampton got hurt vs. FAU because he had more experience at Troy. Brown’s a guy that sits in the pocket and looks for receivers and is more polished of a passer than Hampton (but not the run threat). The offense hasn’t missed a beat with Levi at the helm.

BGDN: Troy lost quite a few big players from a season ago, how has the group been able to overcome those losses and still put together a very competitive season.

DC: There was still a good nucleus of talent coming back, especially on defense and on the offensive line. They lost some star power, but had enough coming back to make it work as well as it has.

BGDN: What’s the attitude like right now after a tough loss last week to Louisiana-Monroe?

DC: They know they can still win the league and go to New Orleans with wins over UL-Lafayette and Arkansas State later this year, but what they wanted to do is win it outright. If they win over ULL and ASU, it will likely end up being a tie (6-1) with ULL. Players just say they were trying to put it behind them, but admitted it was a heartbreaker since they led most of the game.

BGDN: This game last season was a lot closer than most people thought, is there any motivation on the Troy side to make sure that this one isn’t?

DC: Probably. They need a game where they put it all together. The 45-17 win over North Texas wasn’t as pretty as the score indicated. Last year, WKU caught Troy at a good time, played them tough, didn’t let the Trojans pull away after an early lead, and dang near won the game.

BGDN: What’s the status of Jerrel Jernigan for Saturday? As well as the other guys banged up on the Troy sidelines?

DC: Jernigan had his knee scoped last week and I doubt he plays this weekend, but I’d know more on that at the end of the week. Center Danny Franks returned, but played with a noticable limp (ankle). Linebacker Bear Woods (foot) has missed the last two weeks as his injury won’t seem to heal. Guys already lost for the year with knee injuries are quarterbacks Jamie Hampton and Tanner Jones and defensive end Kenny Mainor. There might be other guys playing through nicks and bruises, but Jernigan and Woods are some of the biggest keys to their units and Jernigan’s the best player on this team.

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WKU football blog: Troy week

November 4, 2008

North Texas recap:

Despite suffering its fifth consecutive defeat on Saturday against North Texas — the program’s longest losing streak in 17 years — the sentiment from Western Kentucky players on Monday remained relatively optimistic.

The Hilltoppers continued to talk about how continuing to prepare each week with a positive attitude is basically the only way this skid will be snapped.

“All you can do is go into practice each week and think you’re going to win the ball game, because if you don’t believe, you’re never going to do it,” freshman safety Ryan Beard said. “If you don’t know failure, you’ll never know success.

“We just have to win a ball game, and we’ll be fine.”

Keeping positive can’t be the easiest thing in the world for this team right now, as the devastating loss last weekend came at the hands of one of the worst teams in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision.

But with a 2-7 record, and three remaining games against future Sun Belt opponents left on the slate, WKU really doesn’t have a choice.

“We came out of an exciting week and an exciting weekend, and once again we came out on the bad end of the stick,” junior running back Tyrell Hayden said. “And this week we’ll continue to prepare for Troy and look for good things to come.

“We’re going to stick together, and look to finish the final 25 percent of the season on a good note and send our seniors out the right way.”

Sympathy for the Hilltoppers:

If there’s anyone who knows how difficult a transition into the FBS can be, it’s Troy coach Larry Blakeney.

Blakeney has spent his entire 18-year career on the Trojan sidelines, and in 2001, he led the team through their transition from the former 1-AA classification into the 1-A level. Like the Hilltoppers, Troy’s first season as a 1-A squad was a winning one (7-4), but in 2002, the Trojans 4-8 record was one of the program’s worst in a decade.

“We’ve had some tough years in the 1-A transition, and I think it’s the toughest transition,” Blakeney said. “We went through Division 2 to 1-AA and were able to build that pretty quickly and be competitive, we went to the playoffs seven out of eight years and to the semi(finals) twice and positioned ourselves several times for another national championship, and they understand that too because they’ve won one at the 1-AA level.

“But anytime you’re playing the Alabama’s of the world and other teams inside the (Sun Belt), you find a tremendous challenge every week … and I know they’re trying to get ready for (next season) too, so it’s a ball game anyone can win and we’ve got to be as prepared as we can be.”

Troy didn’t struggle long however, as it captured its first ever Sun Belt and New Orleans Bowl championships in 2006 — just its third season in the league.

WKU football blog: North Texas week

October 28, 2008

Sorry for the long absence, but sometimes a bye week doesn’t provide much of anything to talk/write about. In any event, we’re back in full force now and ready to roll for the final four games of the year.

Early Mean Green thoughts:

Western Kentucky coach David Elson didn’t seem to be buying into the notion of North Texas (0-8) being a lost cause this year — saying that it shows plenty on film that could give the Hilltoppers problems if they’re not on their game this weekend.

“I think turnovers, tipped balls, a bad snap here or two and when it rains it pours — I kind of think that’s happened to them at times,” Elson said. “There’s some miscues here and there and I think they can look at it and point to that handful of plays that maybe would have made things closer and I doubt they think they would have won them all, but they’ve had opportunities.

“There’s definitely some things that I’m sure they’ve worked on that might have changed outcomes in some of those games and I’m sure it’s made them better overall.”

While Elson’s take on the Mean Green was a rather cautious one — considering they’re 0-8 and have allowed 50 points per game this season — he may actually have reason to be wary.

Most people remember last year’s season finale at North Texas for the post-game tussle and the Hilltoppers’ blown opportunities late in the game, but one thing that some may have forgotten is how the Mean Green virtually ran at will all over the WKU defense for the majority of the game.

Then UNT senior Jamario Thomas finished his day with 147 yards and three scores on the ground that proved to be the difference — pretty high numbers for a team that takes to the air nearly two-thirds of the time.

But given Florida Atlantic senior Charles Pierre’s rushing performance in a relatively pass-happy offense two weeks ago against WKU — Elson has said it’s crucial that his defense get back to its basics and stopping the run first.

“We’ve got to not lose sight (of the run) during the course of the game,” Elson said. “Sometimes you get a lead and you think they’re going to throw it and keep throwing it or you get them in a third and long situation and you think throw, throw … our numbers have them 65 percent pass and 35 percent run, so they’re going to run it.

“And that’s on me to make sure we don’t get too pass conscious in the way we call the defense and what we talk about on the sidelines from series to series and just making sure we stay focused on that — and then ultimately it’s tackling, we missed some tackles last year and it comes down to overall execution.”

Big line:

If you woke up and saw the latest betting lines for this weekend, you don’t need to adjust your eyes — the Hilltoppers are in fact a 16 1/2 point favorite against the Mean Green this weekend.

A line that seems awfully steep considering the fact that WKU has only two wins this season, and none against any FBS opponents. Granted it is a homecoming game against an 0-8 team — but let’s not forget how the Mean Green ended the Hilltoppers’ season ago in Denton, Texas with a 27-26 loss.

In any event, this officially marks the first time all season WKU won’t be an underdog in an FBS contest.

Trouble in Denton:

Brett Vito of the Denton Record-Chronicle reported today that 15 North Texas players failed a drug test conducted at the request of Mean Green coach Todd Dodge earlier this season.

There is no word as of yet on what players actually failed the test, nor is there any information on what led to the failed procedures or if anyone will be suspended for this weekend’s game.

Vito did report however that UNT’s athletic policy requires any first-time offender of the school’s drug policy to be subjected to future testing as well as drug counseling. Second- and third-time offenders will be subject to suspension and more counseling and fourth-time offenders will be dismissed from the team and have their scholarships revoked.

Either way you look at it, this news cannot be coming at a good time for Dodge and his program as the Mean Green are a paltry 2-18 under his watch since leaving the Texas high school ranks to lead North Texas in 2007.

WKU football blog: What they’re saying …

October 17, 2008

 

I exchanged e-mails earlier this week with Ted Hutton of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Ted covers FAU football and was kind enough to answer a few questions.

Thanks to Ted in advance, and be sure to check out his Sun-Sentinel blog here: http://blogs.trb.com/sports/college/fau/blog/

 

NB:  I hear Rusty Smith has been dealing with a shoulder problem. Is there anything to this, and how much does it have to do with his struggles this season?

TH: The Rusty Smith saga is a fascinating one. Rusty may have been hurt, but what ails him right now is in his head. He went from what Schnellenberger was calling a sure Round 1 NFL pick to a struggling junior who isn’t coming close to matching his performance last season. We are not even sure if he really did separate his shoulder in the Texas game. Nobody ever said that until Smith did this Monday, so it was news to all of us, and Schnellenberger didn’t substantiate it. Regardless, it is all healed now, whatever it was, but Smith believes it threw off his mechanics. I have seen three things that are different this season: Smith is making some bad decisions by trying to do too much; the usually sure-handed receivers have been dropping balls at an alarming rate; and teams have found that they can blitz without getting burned, and Smith is under a lot more pressure. That is how you get 9 picks in 6 games, when he threw 9 all of last season (13 games).

 

NB: Is this FAU team currently one that struggled with success, a championship-hangover type situation? Or are there other factors at play here with regard to the Owls’ sluggish start?

TH: This is pure hangover. They have plenty of talent, speed, skill, strength, etc., but they had always been underdogs and thrived on that. They have shown the cape of favorite is not a good fit. They got off to a slow start and it just snowballed. The loss to Middle Tennessee was a real killer. There was no way they should have lost to that team, but they found a way, and that carried over to the Troy game. They have had a little break now, but I really don’t know if they can turn things around. Last year the ball bounced their way at nearly every opportunity. This year it is the opposite. Anything that can go wrong has. There have been some injuries, but this is a veteran team with depth, and they should not be struggling like they are. That is what has made this so strange. The coaches and players just can’t figure out what the heck has gone wrong and why they haven’t been able to snap out of it. They look great in practice, but when the whistle blows, they play like a bunch of true freshmen. Baffling.

 

NB: This is a unique game for WKU with regard to measuring itself against a defending Sun Belt champion. What exactly is the approach like for FAU this week?

TH: FAU needs a win. That is all they are thinking about. They are not taking anyone for granted. They view this game as the one that will turn the season around. They will come out playing hard because they are a desperate team. I said this about the Troy game, and it happened, so watch for this — if FAU turns the ball over early, they will be in trouble, because they will be thinking, “here we go again…” If they can protect the ball and get out to a lead, then they just might be OK.

 

NB: What was your opinion of the “dirty” accusations following the Troy game??

TH: I do not believe FAU used cheap shots to injure two of Troys players. When you run the spread, the QB is put in danger a lot, and that is what happened. He got stood up at the line and the pile collapsed on him, and bad things resulted. The Troy players agreed that the tackle was not dirty. But they were upset by what happened afterward, when they claimed FAU players were saying things like, “glad you’re out.” FAU players denied this, but I FAU does talk trash, so I am not going to declare them innocent. I will say that they do hit hard on defense, like to gang tackle, and go to the whistle, which is how they are coached. They did get whistled twice in the season opener at Texas for late hits on McCoy, but since then, they have behaved.

 

NB: While Smith hasn’t exactly lived up to his preseason billing, FAU linebacker Frantz Joseph certainly has — talk about the type of player he is.

TH: Frantz is a beast. I think he had 10 solo tackles at Middle. He is fast and strong and always near the ball. Great story to, son of a Haitian immigrant who never really knew his father. Went to Boston College, but transferred to FAU to be back near his mother, who is very poor and who he helps out as much as he can. He’s a great kid that is always smiling and whose goal is to get his degree and start a business and take care of his mother.

WKU football blog: Florida Atlantic week

October 16, 2008

Conference test:

When the 2008 season began, I circled what I thought was the most important game of the year on the WKU schedule.

It wasn’t at Kentucky, it wasn’t at Alabama or home to Ball State — it was Oct. 18 and home to defending Sun Belt and New Orleans Bowl champion Florida Atlantic.

And even though the Owls haven’t looked anything remotely close to a defending champion this season — they’ve struggled and limped to a 1-5 start — the chance to make a statement is still right there for the taking.

Regardless of its record, FAU is still very similar to the team that piled up nearly 4,000 passing yards last season and stunned Troy before knocking off Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl.

The Hilltoppers should be able to match up pound-for-pound with the Owls this Saturday. There won’t be any potential first-round NFL draft picks on the field, no 350-pound plus nose tackles that can slam dunk a basketball to deal with, and the game will be played at home.

WKU finished 1-2 against Sun Belt opponents last season, and lost two straight after gaining momentum with a mid-season win at Middle Tennessee. This portion of the schedule kicks off five straight games against the Hilltoppers’ future conference — all of them are winnable, and all of them will give an accurate measurement on where exactly this program is heading into its first official SBC year in 2009.

FAU scuffles:

Here’s something WKU and FAU fans might sympathize with each other on: people calling their teams dirty.

The Sun Belt had a messy situation on its hands recently when the Troy University sports information director sent in a nomination for injured Trojan quarterback Jamie Hampton for SBC Player of the Week. Hampton was lost for the season during an Oct. 7 game against the Owls, and ever since then, many of the Trojans have been crying foul play.

In fact, the Troy SID went as far as officially stating in his release that Hampton was unfortunately lost for the season. He then alleged that FAU defensive end Robert St. Clair “delivered a bulls-eye to Hampton’s knee.”

The Sun Belt has since sent an apology to FAU for the incident, as the league offices admitted that it failed to read over the release before sending it out officially.

A Rusty shoulder:

The Sun-Sentinel’s Ted Hutton reported earlier this week that FAU quarterback — and Sun Belt Preseason Player of the Year — Rusty Smith recently admitted that he’s been playing much of the season with a separated left shoulder.

Smith said that his shoulder was separated during the Owls’ first game of the season, a 52-10 loss to current No. 1 Texas.

Smith has hardly looked like the player who threw for over 30 touchdowns and 3,500 yards last season — struggling through six games with just five touchdowns and a whopping nine interceptions (Smith threw just nine throughout all of 2007).

WKU football blog: K.J. Black to transfer

October 6, 2008

The K.J. Black era at Western Kentucky is over.

            WKU coach David Elson announced in a statement Monday afternoon that the school has officially given the sophomore quarterback a release from his scholarship, and permission to transfer.

            “We have been contacted by two schools that have received a release from K.J., and we will enable him to pursue his football career elsewhere,” Elson said in a statement. “I met with K.J. and his family last week, and I met with K.J. again today. We wish K.J. all the best and thank him for his contributions to our program as a student-athlete over the last three years.”

             Black began 2008 as the team’s starting quarterback before getting injured in a week-two game at Eastern Kentucky. Senior David Wolke then started the next two games before Black returned to start two weeks ago at Kentucky.

            Citing poor overall performance, Elson then announced last Tuesday that Black would no longer be the team’s starter – and that Wolke would take over the job for the remainder of 2008. Black then skipped practice later that evening – for reasons unknown – and failed to inform the team. 

            As reported in the Daily News last Thursday, Kenneth Black Sr. – K.J. Black’s father – said in an e-mail that Elson informed him on the telephone last Wednesday that Black “needs to find another school.”

            Elson confirmed Black Sr.’s comments early Monday afternoon.

            “Whatever his father said, I’m sure it’s precisely accurate,” Elson said.

            Elson would not go into further detail as to why he informed Black and his father that he needed to seek a school change.

            Black saw action in three total games as a starter this season for the Hilltoppers, throwing for 277 yards and one touchdown and running for another 68 yards. In 2007, Black saw action in all 12 games – starting two. For his career at WKU, Black went 115-of-182 through the air for 1,284 yards and nine touchdowns. He also ran for 392 yards and two scores.

Read more in Tuesday’s Daily News 

WKU football blog: K.J. Black situation

October 6, 2008

By NICK BAUMGARDNER

The Daily News

nbaumgardner@bgdailynews.com/783-3239

            Western Kentucky football coach David Elson confirmed on Monday that he did indeed inform sophomore quarterback K.J. Black that he needed to find another football program to play for.

            Elson did not speak of any updates early Monday afternoon with regard to Black’s current status with the team, but did say the team will likely release a statement about the matter later today.

            “Nothing has changed, but I’m hoping we’ll get some resolve by the end of the day and we’ll be able to comment on that,” Elson said. “A (press) release on exactly what’s going on will be released today.”

            Black began 2008 as the team’s starting quarterback before getting injured in a week-two game at Eastern Kentucky. Senior David Wolke then started the next two games before Black returned to start two weeks ago at Kentucky.

            Citing poor overall performance, Elson then announced last Tuesday that Black would no longer be the team’s starter – and that Wolke would take over the job for the remainder of 2008. Black then skipped practice later that evening – for reasons unknown – and failed to inform the team. 

            As reported in the Daily News last Thursday, Kenneth Black Sr. – K.J. Black’s father – said in an e-mail that Elson informed him on the telephone last Wednesday that Black “needs to find another school.”

            “Whatever his father said, I’m sure it’s precisely accurate,” Elson said.

            Elson added that Black was never asked to change his position on the team. 

For more information, read Tuesday’s Daily News.

WKU football blog: Virginia Tech post-game

October 4, 2008

Moral victory: 

If you didn’t know any better, you might think that Western Kentucky coach David Elson’s post-game press conference came after a Hilltopper victory. 

And while that certainly wasn’t the case on Saturday at Virginia Tech, Elson seemed ecstatic about the way his team fought back in the second half — and seemed to think that a team that has been searching high and low for an identity all season long, might have just found one.

“I couldn’t be prouder of how hard they fought,” Elson said. “They’ve obviously got a very good football team, and we battled through the fourth quarter and had some opportunities, and cleaned up some things and got even better opportunities — so we’ll learn from it, build on it, get back home and get back on that winning track hopefully.

“I think talking to a few of our guys this week, they’ve learned from those other (BCS) experiences. They know that if we do the right things and play with the right technique, that we’ve got a chance. We had a goal to beat one of (the four BCS teams on the 2008 schedule), and we didn’t — but I told them to get rid of that, we’re disappointed but we can’t do anything about it now — we’ve got some other goals that we want to attain, and I’m excited to get back to work.”

Senior quarterback David Wolke agreed, saying that the true goal coming into Saturday’s game was to just get better and find a way to compete — and he felt the team did just that.

“Coach talked to us about this, he wanted us to come out of this game knowing that we got better — and I think we did,” Wolke said. “The defense has showed up every week and played the best they can and done a really good job, and offensively we still have some things we need to work on and get fixed.

“But I think we did get better today.”

Junior linebacker Blake Boyd said if the team’s found it’s identity, then it’s definitely one of toughness.

“I think we’re definitely tough,” Boyd said. “This team, offense and defense, will come out and hit you in the mouth every play — we make stands, and on offense we try to run it down your throat.

“Our offensive line is tough, our defensive line is tough, and that’s something we’re trying to pride ourselves on.”

Crowd control:

Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium has been recognized as one of the toughest, and loudest places to play in the country over the past 10 years. 

And though WKU has been to some raucous places across the country — Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida, Sanford Stadium at Georgia, Bryant-Denny Stadium at Alabama and Jordan Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. — the consensus was that Lane Stadium was by far the loudest and most difficult to deal with.

“Tough, tough place to play,” Elson said. “Give their fans and their university some credit, you hear about it, but I think we had as much trouble with communication here as we’ve had anywhere — that I’ve ever been.”

Wolke said that the team had problems getting signals and plays relayed into the game with the headsets early on, and though it was fixed, it was still tough until the end.

“At the beginning of the game it was pretty bad,” Wolke said. “We had some trouble with the headset and some things, they couldn’t hear and I couldn’t get the plays in — this is one of the loudest stadiums I’ve ever been in.

“We got it fixed, but in the beginning there it was pretty bad, we missed a bunch of calls.

Offensive line progressing:

After struggling to do anything on the ground in four out of the team’s first five games, WKU shook up its offensive line this week.

And the end result wasn’t a win, but the team will certainly take the 148 yards rushing it gained against a pretty stout Virginia Tech defense.

“I think the o-line came out today to prove a point, and I think they did,” Wolke said. “They played great the whole game, and now everybody else has to do their jobs and execute more.

“But the o-line did their job and you’ve got to give a lot of credit to them.”

WKU football blog: K.J. Black still on the team

October 2, 2008

Western Kentucky coach David Elson confirmed Wednesday that sophomore quarterback K.J. Black is still a member of the WKU football team.

Black was absent from practice on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Elson said the team and Black are working through some issues.

Read more on this story in Thursday’s Daily News.

WKU football blog: mid-week roundup

October 1, 2008

Quarterback analysis:

Changing a starting quarterback mid-season due to performance is never an optimal situation for any football team.

But after analyzing both sophomore K.J. Black and senior David Wolke’s performances throughout the first five games, the Western Kentucky coaching staff seems to think that the change is needed to move forward in 2008.

Arguments for both Black and Wolke could be made as to who exactly deserves the starting job, but the only certainty here is that the offense needs some sort of jump start, and the staff clearly feels this may be the best way to do it.

WKU coach David Elson said on Monday that there would be no change at quarterback for Saturday’s game at Virginia Tech. But in the time between the press conference and practice on Tuesday, an overall change in heart was clearly had.

Elson said he wouldn’t get into specifics Tuesday as to what exactly the reasons for the change were, but after looking at his past comments, the lack of run production from the quarterback spot might be the answer.

Elson has been slightly critical of Black this season when it comes to being a north and south runner, saying that there have been times where he’s shuffled his feet a bit rather than getting up field.

“(The quarterbacks) need to run the ball, run the ball when they’re supposed to, read properly on the zone-read play and when they keep it get north and south and get positive yards,” Elson said on Monday. “At times (K.J. danced in the hole some), and we told him he needs to get north and south — had a few good runs and then there were some where he could have been more deliberate when he made his cuts and got down field.”

While there’s no question that both Black and Wolke are agile enough to be effective in the spread-option, Elson and the staff seem to feel that Wolke can be more effective when it comes to getting up field. Black may have more of a big-play type capability with his ability to improvise, but Wolke’s more of a downhill runner and that could be something the staff feels will help open holes for the struggling running backs.

As far as Black’s absence from practice on Tuesday, it appears to be anyone’s guess right now as far as what exactly the problem is. Black’s father Kenneth Sr. was quoted in Wednesday’s Daily News saying he wasn’t exactly sure either why his son missed practice, but there is no indication that he’s considering leaving the program.

Either way, it’s not exactly a good situation for the Hilltoppers to be in.

Make no mistake, WKU needs a healthy-bodied, and healthy-minded, K.J. Black to be successful in the future. Because next season, he’ll have more experience at the position than any of the other five quarterbacks put together.

But as of right now, the keys to the 2008 offense appear to have been handed over to Wolke on a permanent basis. And whether or not anyone agrees or disagrees with the decision, handing over the reins of a struggling offense to a fifth-year senior might not be the worst thing in the world.

Injuries galore:

A slew of notables sat out practice for one injury reason or another on Tuesday.

The list of players not participating were receiver Quinterrance Cooper (foot), linebacker Alonzo Higgins (foot), cornerback Rashad Etheridge (shoulder), receiver Wenquel Graves (unknown), nose tackle Terald Clark (lower body) and offensive lineman Shelley Anthony (unknown).

Keep in mind that it’s not uncommon for WKU to hold out a good number of ailing players early in the week, and the official status for these individuals for Saturday isn’t known at this point.